Protein Powders: The Good, The Bad and The Toxic


Protein powder is big business. If you’ve been to a health food store lately, you’ve probably been overwhelmed by the selection of protein powders available. I’m not just talking flavors, but different types of protein.

Because we use protein powder as a meal replacement, it’s important to know what we’re really getting. Will it help us or hurt us?

Being in the fitness world as a bodybuilding competitor, I’ve noticed that everyone has a favorite protein type. Of course, they all think theirs is better than the rest. Who do you listen to?

Most people in the field are more concerned with muscle and peak performance than the dangers of consuming certain types of proteins or sweeteners. I think it is possible to have it all. And, as always, research should be done before choosing which protein powder to spend your money on and consume on a daily basis.

Here are the different types of proteins used in the powders on the market. Some are good, some are bad, and some are toxic.

Whey Protein Powders

Whey protein is the most common type of protein powder on the market. It’s a complete protein source because it contains all nine of the essential amino acids your body needs. These are amino acids your body can’t produce on it’s own.

Whey contains protein, lactose, minerals and a tiny amount of fat. It’s pros are that it is complete protein, has high L-leucine content, is rapidly absorbed, helps build and maintain muscle because of it’s branch chain animo acids, and is relatively inexpensive compared to other protein sources.

Whey protein comes in a three types – Concentrate, Isolate, and Hydrolysates.

Whey concentrate is an ultra-filtered product that includes 20% – 90% of actual protein. The rest of the powder is made up of lactose, minerals and fats. On labels, it will sometimes tell you the percentage of actual protein. This is the cheapest whey protein available. The drawback of this protein powder is that it has more fat, higher carbs and more lactose.

Whey isolate utilizes a membrane filtration technique. It’s aim is to produce greater than 90% protein concentrate by “isolating”  the protein from the carbs and fat. Whey isolate is lactose free, very digestible and very low in fat and carbs. However, this protein is about double the price of whey concentrate.

Whey hydrolystate or hydrolized is a pre-digested protein. It is meant to be quicker for the body to digest because they have separated out the peptide bonds. It is about 99% pure protein and more digestible than isolate or concentrate. It is also the most expensive form of whey protein.

Many people get confused on the topic of hydrolyzed protein vs. hydrolyzed whey protein. Hydrolyzed protein usually includes MSG because of the glutamic acid, additionally, it is not produced from the milk, but from other areas of the cow. Hydrolyzed protein is not the same as the hydrolyzed whey protein. Hydrolyzed whey protein is simply a more filtered and broken down whey protein.

In determining the quality and efficacy of the protein in general, they use two terms, BV and PDCAAS. BV measures the ability of an animal or person to utilize that protein. PDCAAS measures the protein quality based on its amino acid content in relation to the human requirements for them. The higher the number in each, the better the protein source. Whey protein, in general, gets a 104-159 BV (depending on the type of whey) and a 1.00 in the PDCAAS category.

How does this compare to other sources of protein? A whole egg scores 100 BV and 1.00 PDCAAS. Beef scores 80 BV and .92 PDCAAS. And peanuts score 68 BV and .52 PDCAAS. Refer to the comparison table at the end of the article.

Casein Protein Powder

Casein protein is the other protein in milk. It is a slow-digesting protein which some people prefer because it stays in their system longer. Because of the way casein is processed, it results in a slow-digestion, and steady release of amino acids. This is good when you’re in a more catabolic (muscle loss) state. Whey protein would be a better choice for a anabolic (muscle building) state, such as working out. Native casein, found in whole raw milk, is one of the best proteins for your muscles.

However, there are some serious problems with casein protein. Most casein included in protein powders and drinks is ultra-thermolyzed. Because of this processing, the protein includes “putrid proteins” which are linked to cancer.

Additionally, casein protein can be dangerous to those with kidney problems. A recent study showed that rats with kidney disease developed renal insufficiency with just 20% of casein protein in their diet. Casein protein has nitrogen byproducts which can exaserbate kidney damage.

There is really not much reason to include casein protein powder in your diet. If you are doing dairy, drink a glass of whole, raw milk (or at least organic milk) to get the casein you want. You will probably not find unprocessed casein in a protein powder form.

Egg Protein Powder

Egg protein powder is a great source if you can’t get to an actual egg. It is a complete source of protein, like whey. In fact, all BV measurements are based on it. Like I said earlier, it’s BV level is 100 and it’s PDCAAS is 1.0. That is a perfect score in the protein arena. The drawbacks with egg protein powder is the cholesterol level (unless you get egg white protein powder). Egg protein is highly allergenic, and it is a very expensive protein  compared to whey concentrate or isolate.

Pea Protein Powder

Pea protein powder is created by drying, grinding and defatting a pea. It’s a decent alternative for vegetarians, but only contains three of the nine essential animo acids. It’s BV is pretty low at 65 and it’s PDCAAS is only 0.69. However, it does contain 30% of your daily dose of iron. Unless you are a vegan or allergic to dairy and eggs, pea protein is not the ideal choice.

Rice Protein Powder

Rice protein is created by isolating the protein out of brown rice grain through an enzymatic process obtaining 85% – 91% of the protein. It contains all nine essential animo acids plus four times as more arginine than whey. Rice protein is a slow-digesting protein to give you an even energy level as well as allergen-friendly. Rice protein powder has a great concentration of protein and therefore is a great option for vegans. It scores 83 on the BV scale is a .47 on PDCAAS.

Hemp Protein Concentrate Powder

Hemp protein concentrate is a complete food, but it lacks as a protein source. It only provides, at the most when processed, 50% protein. However, what it lacks in muscle building properties, it makes up for in immune building. It’s proteins are made up of edestin and albumin, which closely resemble the globulin found in human blood plasma. Because of this, hemp protein has the ability to stimulate the manufacturing of antibodies against foreign invaders. Additionally, hemp protein has a good portion of fiber and Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.

Soy Protein Isolate Powder

Soy protein isolate is a protein-rich powder extracted from the waste product of soy oil manufacturing. Even though soy protein isolate is widely used as a protein source, there are many dangers in consuming it. This is not only because soy is a GMO crop, but because of the way soy protein isolate is manufactured, which results in a variety of toxins.

Consuming soy protein isolate can lead to mineral deficiency because of it’s high levels of phytic acid. Phytic acid blocks the uptake of essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Additionally soy protein powder includes toxins that are enzyme inhibitors which block the action of trypsin and other enzymes needed for protein digestion. Some soy protein powders are fermented to remove this toxin. However, fermentation also removes certain enzymes needed for digestion.

Of course, for women especially, consuming soy can disrupt the normal functioning of endocrine glands that produce hormones because of it’s high phytoestrogen content. Even in men, soy protein can suppress the production of testosterone and reduce the sex drive.

And if all that’s not bad enough, soy protein isolate contains aluminum and the toxin lysinoalinine. Because of this, the US Food and Drug Administration has chosen not to classify soy protein isolate as “generally recognized as safe” for use as a human food additive.

So, now that you know the different types of protein, you should be able to determine which type of protein powder is best for you. Don’t forget, you can always use a blend of proteins to get exactly what you need.

Protein Comparison Table

Please be careful when shopping for protein powder. Make sure to read the ingredients list to consider protein sources, flavor sources and the type of sweeteners used. This is a product you will be replacing a meal with, so make sure to opt for organic whenever possible.

Hope Bundrant is a home school mom, co-founder of the iNLP Center and nationally qualified bodybuilding competitor. If you like this article, then visit Hope at for more fitness tips, recipes and personal development articles.

“Biochemical, Physiological and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition”; Martha Stipanuk; 2006

Hope Bundrant
Hope Bundrant is the Director of iNLP Center and Healthy Times Newspaper along with being a mother of six, homeschooling mom and a NPC masters bikini champion. It is her passion to help women achieve their goals, at any age, through personal development, encouragement and sharing of her knowledge. Life is hard enough, why wouldn't we help one another?